For those considering applying to graduate school, factors such as cost, quality of the faculty and job placement play key roles in the decision-making process. Going into the field of law is especially risky, as many law school students are often faced with crippling debt a few job opportunities after graduation.
According to reform group Law School Transparency, while hiring has slowed in many firms around the nation, in 2013 “the average public law school graduate carried a debt of $84,600, while graduates of private colleges incurred $122,158 in debt,” the New York Observer reports.
Therefore, hopefuls wishing to pursue a law degree would be well-advised to make sure that if they take the plunge, they should come out with the right tools to succeed. At FindTheBest, we wanted to know whether attending schools with hefty price tags is the only way to ensure bar exam success. The exam is the official assessment of a person’s knowledge of the law in the state in which he or she take the test. Every law school graduate must pass the bar before practicing as a lawyer, so the exam undoubtedly plays a crucial role in measuring a graduate’s success.
We weighed tuition for full-time residents against the past year’s percentage of students who passed the bar on their first try.
The data comes from the American Bar Association Standard 509 Information Reports. The ranking sources include US News & World Report, Educational Quality Ratings and Gourman Report.
Fortunately, out of the 201 law schools listed on FindTheBest, more than half have percentages of students who passed the bar on the first try that are over 70 percent.
As expected, the top five law schools—Yale, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago and Columbia University— all have some of the highest tuition rates and over 90% of their students pass the bar on their first try. Yale Law School, the highest-ranked law program in the country, has an above average tuition cost of $54,650 and 94% of students pass the bar on their first attempt. The most expensive law school is Columbia University Law School, which charges full-time residents $57,838. It’s a good thing, therefore, that 95% of students are getting their money’s worth and pass the bar on their first try.
But is paying over $50K completely necessary? Schools in the bottom-right corner of the graph are those that charge relatively low tuition but still prepare their students for success on the bar exam.
In the latest yearly report, number 26-ranked University of Wisconsin Law School had 100% of its law students pass the bar on their first try—more than any of the top five law schools. The price tag? $21,365. Georgia State University is ranked number 51 and costs $16,042 a year. Nevertheless, 97% of GSU law students passed the the bar on their first try. The University of Alabama’s law school has the same percentage of successful students, is ranked 21st and costs $20,770.
Then there is The University of Montana School of Law, which is among the cheapest law schools (tuition is $11,282) and ranks 117th. Despite its low ranking, a respectable 87% of students still pass the bar on their first try.
But what about employment statistics? Law school graduates want to know if they will have a good job after graduation, after spending thousands of dollars and countless hours of rigorous study . Unfortunately, law school employment figures have become inflated over the years, as institutions can offer temporary, part-time positions to graduates in an effort to inflate their employment numbers.
Because of these inaccuracies, the U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) and the National Associate for Law Placement (NALP), which compile law school employment statistics, have recently revised the way they calculate some of these statistics. For example, the USNWR used to exclude graduates who were unemployed but were “not seeking work” from its calculations.
Now, according to New Republic, “schools that, until a few weeks ago, were claiming one in 500 graduates were unemployed now claim one in 30 are, while those who were advertising 95 percent employment rates are saying one in six graduates don’t have jobs, and so on down the hierarchical line.” The good thing about measuring cost against bar exam success rates is that bar results leave little room for possible misrepresentation.
In short, though students who attend costly law schools tend to have passing results on the bar exam, the numbers show that going to a cheaper school doesn’t necessarily set you up for failure, either. Schools like Alabama Law School—with top performance on the bar exam and relatively lower tuition—may have found that balance that will make a law school investment a bit more worthwhile.